Weekly News Update 
 
 
 
 
WASHINGTON, D.C. August 5, 2016
 

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties
 
FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
Dear Friend,

Hostilities in Eastern Ukraine continue to escalate, raising concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Donbas. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the growth in the number of civilian casualties is alarming, urging both sides to adhere to the ceasefire agreement and protect civilians. Several thousand Jews remain in the areas of unrest, including many elderly and other vulnerable populations.

This week, NCSEJ Deputy Director Lesley Weiss and I attended a reception hosted by the Ukrainian embassy in Washington in honor of the new U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. We had an opportunity to speak with Ambassador Yovanovitch, and look forward to working with her in the future.

The update includes a number of articles about foreign policy issues raised during the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

I also want to highlight two interesting opinion pieces, by Taras Kuzio and Alexander Motyl, about Ukrainian nationalism, which give a thoughtful and nuanced analysis of the delicate balance between national pride and radical nationalist ideology in Ukraine.

Sincerely,
 
 
Mark B. Levin
NCSEJ Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
NCSEJ WEEKLY NEWS BRIEF
Washington, D.C. August 5, 2016


UN warns of escalating tension in eastern Ukraine as casualties hit highest since last August
UN, August 3, 2016
 
Civilian causalities in eastern Ukraine spiked in June and July, prompting the United Nations human rights chief to call on the parties to the conflict to make protection of civilians a priority and take urgent steps to de-escalate the increasingly tense situation at the contact line.
 
“The escalation of hostilities and the accompanying civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine over the last two months are very worrying,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said today in a news release.
 
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 69 civilian casualties in June, including 12 dead and 57 injured, and 73 civilian casualties in July, including eight dead and 65 injured, the highest figures since August 2015. The average of 71 for these two months was more than double the monthly average of 34 from September 2015 through May 2016.


 Read the full article here.

Ukraine Rebels Warn of Return to Full Fighting 'Very Soon'
By Damien Sharkov
Newsweek, August 4, 2016

Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s east have threatened a return to full-scale conflict “very soon” if Kiev does not recall forces away from the contact line, newspaper Izvestia has reported.
 
Over the last two months violence in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known collectively as Donbas, has risen to the highest levels in a year. Donetsk rebel representative Denis Pushilin said that “the situation worsens every day;” government forces have reported Moscow-backed rebel violations frequently average between 50-70 a day.
 
A February 2015 ceasefire agreement demanded both sides recall heavy weapons from the contact line, grant amnesty to prisoners of war and implement a series of other measures. But neither side has fully complied and both accuse the other of violating the ceasefire and provoking them.



Obama Says Alleged Russian Hack Wouldn't Change Relations
RFE/RL, August 3, 2016
 
U.S. President Barack Obama said the alleged Russian hack of Democratic Party computers, if confirmed, would not dramatically change already troubled relations between the two countries.
 
Obama’s comments on August 2 came as the FBI continued to probe the hack, which occurred in June.
 
Thousands of internal e-mails from the Democratic Party Committee were later leaked, embarrassing the party at the start of its convention to nominate Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate.
 
Clinton has blamed Russia for the hack. The Kremlin has denied involvement.
 
Speaking at the White House, Obama said "the United States already has a lot of differences with Russia on a whole bunch of issues, but I think that we've been able to try to stay focused on those areas where we still have a common interest."



Lithuanian mayor urged to stop parties at former concentration camp
JTA, August 3, 2016
 
A prominent Nazi-hunter from Israel, and the Jewish Community of Lithuania called on the city of Kaunas to stop the use for recreational purposes of what used to be a concentration camp for Jews during the Holocaust.
 
Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Tuesday wrote a letter about the area known as the Seventh Fort to Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijosaitis following the publication last month of a JTA expose about various activities held on the grounds, including treasure hunts, summer camps, costume parties for adults, camping excursions and BBQ parties.
 
“As you no doubt are aware, the site of the mass murder of several thousand Jews in 1941 was privatized several years ago, and has now been turned into a recreation and entertainment center which violates the memory of the victims,” wrote Zuroff, who conducted his own investigation of the site together with the Lithuanian novelist Ruta Vanagaite for a book they co-authored and published in January titled “Musiskiai,” Lithuanian for “our own.”
 
“I urge you to immediately suspend such activities at the Seventh Fort and find a way to restore the site to the municipality or to an organization whose purpose will be to honor the memory of the victims, rather than insult them,” added Zuroff, who provided a copy of the letter to JTA.
 

Read the full article here.

Poles observe 72nd anniversary of Warsaw Uprising
AP, August 1, 2016

People across Warsaw observed a minute of silence as a siren wailed on Monday, marking the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising, a struggle against Nazi Germany in 1944 that lasted 63 days and ended tragically for the Poles.
 
The minute of silence is a yearly tradition that always takes place at 5 p.m., the hour when the uprising began on Aug. 1, 1944.
 
On Monday, people across the capital of 1.7 million people stopped in their tracks, some holding flags or torches.
 
There were several other observances involving Poland's political leaders, war veterans and ordinary people.
 
The Warsaw Uprising was the largest act of resistance by any nation under the German occupation during World War II, and the heroism of the insurgents remains a defining element in Polish national identity.

 

Read the full article here.

Ukraine rejects Russia's proposed ambassador to Kiev
Reuters, August 4, 2016
 
Ukraine has rejected Russia's proposed candidate for its next ambassador to Kiev, a senior Ukrainian foreign ministry official said.
 
Mikhail Zurabov, who was Moscow's envoy in Kiev during anti-Russian street protests, Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, stepped down in July.
 
The Kremlin has proposed Mikhail Babich, who has held a number of senior official posts in Russia including with the FSB security service, but Ukrainian foreign ministry official Olena Zerkal said Kiev had decided not to consider the proposal.

Read the full article here.

Sarkisian Calls For 'National Accord' Government Excluding 'Terrorists'
RFE/RL, August 02, 2016
 
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian promised to form a government of "national accord" within months, but vowed it would not include "terrorists and their defenders," in an apparent reference to an armed opposition group that surrendered after a two-week standoff with Yerevan police.
 
Over 1,000 people took to the streets of Yerevan on August 1 to call for leniency for the 20 gunmen, who were arrested this weekend after ending their occupation of a police compound in a confrontation that left two policemen dead.
 
While pledging to form a new, more harmonious government, Sarkisian vowed to keep "terrorists and their defenders" out of it -- words police had used in arresting the gunmen, who had demanded Sarkisian's resignation.
 
Sarkisian said after meeting with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and government officials, that the gunmen "hid their emphatically terrorist actions...under the guise of patriotic calls for social justice."

  
Read the full article here.

Ukrainian Official Resigns, Citing 'Attacks On Journalists'
RFE/RL, August 3, 2016
 
Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Information Policy Tetyana Popova has announced her resignation, citing what she described as attacks on journalists and freedom of speech.
 
"I am resigning. I don't agree with attacks on journalists and attacks on freedom of speech by political organizations and individual political officials. I can't tolerate the absence of a proper reaction to that kind of attacks," she wrote in a Facebook posting on August 3.
 
"As a protest, I am leaving the government, but will continue fighting for the Maidan ideas, for freedom and democracy as a citizen and a volunteer. I'll continue fighting for everything our patriots are fighting for at the front line," she said.
 
In a later interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Popova linked her resignation to the massive disclosure of journalists' personal data -- including her own -- by a website called Myrotvorets (Peacekeeper) in May.
 
The website's creators claimed the 4,500 targeted journalists had collaborated with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.


Read the full article here.

Ukraine's ambassador: Trump's comments send wrong message to world
By Amb. Valeriy Chaly
The Hill, August 4, 2016

 The U.S. presidential race has captured attention of the world, sometimes posing serious challenges for foreign diplomats when they find their country in the campaign's spotlight. Ukraine, which came to the world's attention two years with its Revolution of Dignity and then worked to remain on the world's radar after Russian aggression, has found itself in the spotlight once again.
 
Recent comments by Republican nominee Donald Trump about the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea — occupied by Russia since March 2014 — have raised serious concerns in Kyiv and beyond Ukraine. Many in Ukraine are unsure what to think, since Trump's comments stand in sharp contrast to the Republican party platform. Since the Russian aggression, there has been bipartisan support for U.S. sanctions against Russia, and for such sanctions to remain in place until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored. Efforts to enhance Ukraine's defense capacity are supported across the aisle, as well, to ensure that Ukraine becomes strong enough to deter Russia’s aggression.


Donald Trump’s Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia
By Jeff Nesbit
Time, August 2, 2016
 
Russian intelligence agencies have allegedly recently digitally broken into four different American organizations that are affiliated either with Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party since late May. All of the hacks appear designed to benefit Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations in one fashion or another.
 
When asked about this, and his affection for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump said any inference that a connection exists between the two is absurd and the stuff of conspiracy. “I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted after the Democratic National Committee was apparently hacked by Russia and the emails released by Wiki Leaks on the eve of the DNC convention to nominate Clinton as its 2016 presidential candidate.
 
Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.

 

U.S. weighs dangers, benefits of naming Russia in cyber hack
By Warren Strobel and John Walcott
Reuters, August 1, 2016
 
Wary of a global confrontation with Russia, U.S. President Barack Obama must carefully weigh how to respond to what security experts believe was Moscow's involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party organizations, U.S. officials said.
 
Publicly blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin's intelligence services would bring instant pressure on Washington to divulge its evidence, which relies on highly classified sources and methods, U.S. intelligence officials said.
 
One option for Washington is to retaliate against Russia in cyberspace. But the intelligence officials said they fear a rapid escalation in which, under a worst-case scenario, Moscow's sophisticated cyber warriors could attack power grids, financial systems and other critical infrastructure.



Why Putin reshuffled his political deck
By Marina Obrazkova
Russia Direct, August 1, 2016
 
The Kremlin has once again reshuffled the political elites in the Russian regions - and this time, the moves extended as far as Crimea. President Vladimir Putin dismissed the head of the Federal Customs Service, Andrei Belianinov, and replaced three presidential envoys to federal districts as well as a few governors. Meanwhile, he made the Crimean Federal District part of the Southern Federal District.
 
As might be expected, there are many interpretations of what actually happened. The main conclusion made by experts about Putin's decisions is that he has attempted a "fine tuning" of political life in the regions. In addition, he delivered a message to the regional elites that they are under supervision. It is also important to note that a majority of the new appointees are individuals who are loyal to Putin personally (some of them coming from the law enforcement structures), rather than just some functionaries with the right managerial experience.


With Kerry Meeting, Washington Seeks New Path In Central Asia
By Bruce Pannier
RFE/RL, August 3, 2016
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has welcomed the foreign ministers from the five Central Asian states -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- to Washington. Their meeting, dubbed the C5+1, follows up on the inaugural session of the group, which was held last year in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
 
With its involvement in Afghanistan winding down, the United States is attempting to restructure the relationship it has had with Central Asia for the last 15 years -- where for Washington, security had been the priority.
 
Washington is hoping to open new trade ties with Central Asia, a difficult task at a time when Central Asia's neighbor China has come to dominate the region economically during the last decade.
 
The United States is also seeking to reemphasize the need for the Central Asian governments to show greater respect for basic human rights and take more credible and visible steps toward establishing and developing democratic institutions. Washington was active in prodding Central Asian governments towards democratic reforms in the 1990s, but after the September 11, 2001, attacks its focus shifted to counterterrorism efforts in neighboring Afghanistan.


Read the full article here.

Tajikistan Mulls EEU Membership, Feels Pull of Russia
By Samuel Ramani
RFE/RL, August 1, 2016
 
On July 19, Abdufattoh Ghoib, the head of Tajikistan's Customs Service, announced that the Tajik government was considering making an application to enter the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Ghoib's declaration followed an announcement from Leonid Slutsky, the Russian State Duma member overseeing Eurasian integration, in which he stated that Tajikistan would likely apply for EEU membership in 2017.
 
If Tajikistan joins the EEU, Tajikistan will be entrenched further into the Russian sphere of influence. From a purely economic standpoint, Tajikistan's dependence on remittance revenues from guest workers living in Russia makes EEU integration a natural step. Yet deeper integration with Russia has been surprisingly controversial in Tajikistan.
 
Even though Tajikistan is economically beholden to Moscow, a sizable minority of Tajiks are opposed to EEU accession. In addition, some Tajik military officers are angered by Russia's lack of consultation with Tajik officials on important military-base activities and crimes perpetrated by Russian soldiers at Moscow's Tajik base.


Two myths about nationalism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine
By Taras Kuzio
Washington Post, August 1, 2016
 
During the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, many observers have commented on strains of nationalism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism in the country. But unfortunately, these comments have often missed the mark. How identity and prejudice shape Ukrainian politics is far more complicated than is commonly depicted.
 
It is particularly important to understand these questions now. We are in the middle of a U.S. presidential election in which Donald Trump has praised Vladimir Putin and raised questions about whether he might reverse U.S. opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and recognize its annexation of the Crimea.
 
I have conducted 15 research trips to eastern and southern Ukraine, including time visiting the front lines of the conflicts in the Donbas and Crimea regions. Based on this research, I can debunk two myths about nationalism and anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
 

Read the full article here.

National Memory in Ukraine
By Alexander J. Motyl
Foreign Affairs, August 4, 2016

Are you a fascist?” I ask. “And are you an anti-Semite?”
 
Volodymyr Viatrovych, the 39-year-old director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, in Kiev, whose critics in the West demonize as an apologist of fascism and anti-Semitism, laughs. “Under no circumstances! I consider myself an anti-fascist. I value freedom, above all, and have the greatest respect for Jews. Indeed, I consider the Jewish struggle for liberation and equality to be a model for Ukrainians.”
 
“Well,” I continue, “are you a Banderite?” The reference is to the followers of Stepan Bandera, the controversial leader of the radical wing of the organized Ukrainian nationalist movement from the mid-1930s until his murder by a Soviet assassin in 1959.
 
“That depends on what you mean by ‘Banderite,’” Viatrovych answers. “According to Russian propaganda, every nationally conscious Ukrainian is a Banderite. In that case, so am I. If by Banderite you mean a supporter of an interwar form of nationalism, then no.”



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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About NCSEJ
Founded in 1971, NCSEJ represents the organized American Jewish community in monitoring and advocating on behalf of the estimated 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including the 15 successor states of the former Soviet Union.
 
 
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